I spent last Saturday night introducing a group of Bollywood virgins to the experience that is Devdas (2002). As much as I like the film, I itched to show something closer to my own heart (read: something from the '70s). The choice came down to a couple of rather cold factors--what DVD's I owned that (A) were recent, (B) of comparable production quality to Hollywood, and (C) were films I was capable of being objective towards during a public viewing (which crosses out things like Fanaa). Luckily, everyone enjoyed themselves, and I didn't have to vigorously defend any sacred ground.
Still, today I wonder, if I had to ask one traditionally western artist, perhaps even a respected literary figure (read: author) to both defend Bollywood to it's detractors and to persuade those who are on the fence about its charms, who would I pick? For me, it's got to be an author I know well, even intimately. Otherwise, how would I trust he/she to do the job right? This author also needs to be able to argue passionately for the continued use of fantasy--for stories that weave mythic and folktale elements together in new ways. Also, for the sake of not putting words in any living person's mouth, I think these figures all need to be dead (conveniently without ability to comment or take insult).
Here are a few of my top contenders. . .
|Via Hipster Shakespeare.|
It seems like a natural choice to pick such a giant, but ultimately, Shakespeare is too popular, and too British, and most importantly--too prolific to be useful. If he were alive today, he would be so busy marketing his many products that he wouldn't have time to take up a barrister gig on the side.
"The man that hath no music in himself, nor is moved with concord of sweet sounds, is fit for treasons, strategems, and spoils; the motions of his spirit are dull as night, and his affections as dark as Erabus. Let no such man be trusted. Mark the music."
~William Shakespeare (Merchant of Venice: Act 5, Scene 1)
|Via Bibliophile Files|
"Don't try to comprehend with your mind. Your minds are very limited. Use your intuition."
(A Wrinkle in Time)
Frances Hodgson Burnett
|Ethel Franklin Bett's illustration of A Little Princess|
“It will be like a story from the Arabian Nights,” he said. “Only an Oriental could have planned it. It does not belong to London fogs.”
(A Little Princess)
"When I am telling it, it doesn't seem as if it was only made up. It seems more real than you are, more real than the schoolroom. I feel as if I were all the people in the story--one after the other. It is queer." (ALP).
|The side of Prince Edward Island I recognize via Hopeless Wanderer|
Yet no one, not even the great fantasy writers (E. Nesbit, Tolkien, etc. etc.) can outmatch L.M. Montgomery in sheer appreciation of fantasy--albeit from the her stance at the edge of Fantasy's borders. Speaking of one of Montgomery's well-known characters, Madeleine L'Engle said:
"The books I read most as a child were by Lucy Maud Montgomery, who's best known for her Anne of Green Gables stories, but I also liked Emily of New Moon . . . She had a hard time in school, and she also understood that there's more to life than just the things that can be explained by encyclopedias and facts. Facts alone are not adequate. I loved Emily."
Montgomery championed Story and Magic and Feelings uninhibited by Reason . . .
“Don't be led away by those howls about realism. Remember-pine woods are just as real as pigsties and a darn sight pleasanter to be in.”
(Emily of New Moon)
. . . Yet her books taste strongly of an older conservative age . . . as shows strongly in the fondly penned dialogues of secondary characters . . .
“But it ain't our feelings we have to steer by through life--no, no, we'd make shipwreck mighty often if we did that. There's only the one safe compass and we've got to set our course by that--what it's right to do.”
(Anne of Avonlea)
But of course she was writing in the early 1900s through the 1920's in a conservative region of the world (the East coast of Canada) . . . burdened and bordered (and inspired by) all the intricacies of the etiquette and customs of rural North America and the leftover mores of the late Victorian era .
“No one can be free who has a thousand ancestors.”
Does this combination of excess and restriction seem familiar to you? Do you think of something in particular when you hear Romance and Rules married in such a fashion?
|Aap Ki Kasam (1974)|
Ok, I'll accept Jane Austen or Regency fiction as an answer.
But mostly, I see the average Filmi Story . . . and I see it as a gem created by an internal fire of myth and song . . . and shaped by the outward pressure of society's expectations.
|Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978)|
The most telling proof of Montgomery's potential as a Bollywood Barrister is her ability, shown over and over again in her semi-autobiographical Emily novels, to champion creative identity in the face of criticism.
“Well, it all comes to this; there's no use trying to live in other people's opinions. The only thing to do is to live in your own. After all, I believe in myself. I'm not so bad and silly as they think me, and I'm not consumptive, and I can write. Now that I've written it all out I feel differently about it. The only thing that still aggravates me is that Miss Potter pitied me -- pitied by a Potter!”
If I had to pick one person in all of space and time to come and defend a highly emotive, symbol-driven, moralistic, and "irrational" artform . . . it would be Montgomery.
Because Hindi films should NEVER be pitied for what they do best.